Golf Buzz

Arnold Palmer
USA Today Images
Arnold Palmer found the fairway with his ceremonial tee shot at Augusta National to start the 78th Masters on Thursday morning.

At 7:40 this morning, legends Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player kicked off the 78th Masters by striking the ceremonial opening tee shots.

All three found the first fairway. Nicklaus was the longest, edging Player by a yard.

RELATED: PGA.com's Masters leaderboard | Complete coverage | Masters by the numbers

While having honorary starters serve as a great Masters tradition, the tournament hasn't had starters every year. In all, nine golfers have been honorary starters at the Masters. Collectively, they have won 57 majors, including 19 Masters Tournaments. Here they are, along with the years they served the honorary starter role:

- Jock Hutchison, 1963-73
- Fred McLeod, 1963-76
- Gene Sarazen, 1981-99
- Byron Nelson, 1981-82 and 1984-2001
- Ken Venturi, 1983
- Sam Snead, 1984-2002
- Arnold Palmer, 2007-
- Jack Nicklaus, 2010-
- Gary Player, 2012-

The first two honorary starters -- Hutchison and McLeod -- earned the role as winners at Augusta National... but not in the Masters. You see, Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones helped organize the Senior PGA Championship and the first two were played at Augusta National in 1937 and 1938.

Venturi never won at Augusta National, but did record the best-ever finish by an amateur in 1956, when he finished alone in second place, one shot behind winner Jack Burke Jr. Venturi had a four-shot lead through 54 holes that year and was eight better than Burke going into the final round before Burke stormed back and Venturi faded on the final day.

Other than Hutchison, McLeod and Venturi, all other honorary starters have been Masters champions.

There is a noticeable gap from 2003-2006 when there were no starters, and for good reason. After the deaths of Snead (2002) and Sarazen (1999), Nelson decided he'd rather not partake.

A recent story by Augusta Chronicle Sports Editor John Boyette suggests that the honorary starter may have been around before 1963:

The Masters media guide says the honorary starter tradition began in 1963. Newspaper clippings, however, indicate the tradition started in the 1950s.

“As has been the tradition for years, two grand old champions will start the parade Thursday as the opening twosome,” The Augusta Chronicle reported in 1963.

The earliest records of Jock Hutchison and Fred McLeod teeing off together in the first pairing of the tournament came in 1954. Through 1962, the two men would traditionally play nine or 18 holes and then withdraw from the tournament.

It wasn’t until 1964 that the words “honorary starter” were listed next to their names in the list of tee times.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.

 

April 9, 2014 - 6:59pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki at the Masters
USA Today Sports Images
Caroline Wozniacki's bright pink ponytail was easy to spot amid the green, yellow and white that dominate Augusta National.
All the caddies at the Masters – even the kids and family members who do the honors during the Par 3 Contest – are decked out in Augusta National's traditional white coveralls. Even so, Rory McIlroy's fiancée Caroline Wozniacki stood out today.
 
Why? Because she's dyed her hair bright pink. 
 
 
The last time we saw the Danish tennis star was just the other day, when she earned her 400th career win at the Monterrey Open in Mexico, and her hair was still its natural blonde color there. At Augusta, she drew plenty of double-takes as the players, patrons and photographers got their first look at her brightly colored ponytail – and her matching pink shoes.
 
Wozniacki capped off her day by sinking a putt on the ninth green while McIlroy cheered her on. She followed up not by talking about her hair but by teasing fellow tennis player Andy Roddick on Twitter. Here's what she said:
 
 
 
April 9, 2014 - 4:56pm
Posted by:
John Holmes
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Arnold Palmer at the Masters
Justin Timberlake via Twitter
Arnold Palmer's ceremonial tee shot drew a cheer from Justin Timberlake on Day 1 of the Masters.

The Masters is one of those special events that attracts the attention of golf fans everywhere, no matter how serious they are about the game. As the first round rolled on Thursday afternoon, fans as diverse as Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander and comedian Larry the Cable Guy chimed in on the proceedings via Twitter. 

Here is some of their commentary:

 

Watching the masters and this pin placement on hole 17 is ridiculous.

— Mo Williams (@mowilliams) April 10, 2014

My buddy Boo is sittin40th right now at the masters. Watch him make a big move up Friday. I'm that confident!

— Larry The Cable Guy (@GitRDoneLarry) April 10, 2014

@CallawayGolf: The King going #BerthaLong off the first tee at Augusta National. Classic. pic.twitter.com/J8I3apyEP8” LEGEND.

— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) April 10, 2014

Keegan Bradley's Nike golf shoes
Keegan Bradley via Instagram
This pair of Keegan Bradley's Nike golf shoes features the Michael Jordan "Jumpman" logo along with a Masters-inspired green and white color scheme.
Keegan Bradley is a friend of Michael Jordan and his Airness' frequent golf partner down in Jupiter, Fla. Over the last several months, Bradley also has been wearing various editions of Nike's Air Jordan golf shoes.
 
Keegs is sporting some brand-new models for Masters Week, and they are in my opinion the best looking so far. They are, from my understanding, cleated reimaginings of the Air Jordan 11 basketball shoes.
 
 
Earlier this week, Bradley showed off a black-and-white pair that is very similar in design to some of Jordan's most famous basketball shoes, but the green and white ones I've pictured above are my favorites.
 
Bradley's good buddy and fellow PGA Champion Jason Dufner is sporting some cool new Nike kicks this week, too. As you can see below, however, there's no way you'll confuse them with Bradley's.
 
Check 'em out:
 
 
April 9, 2014 - 10:45am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Phil Mickelson
USA Today Images
Phil Mickelson is seeking his fourth Masters victory this week.

The first major of the season is upon us. The dogwoods, the azaleas, the magnolias, the towering pines and oak trees -- Augusta National Golf Club in all its glory for what is sure to be yet another fantastic Masters.

If you like drama (who doesn't?), it doesn't get any better than the back nine on Sunday where Amen Corner can ruin, or boost, the hopes of slipping into a coveted green jacket.

Many have suggested this particular Masters may just be the most wide open in years.

RELATED: Complete Masters coverage | Round 1 tee times | Scott goes for No. 1 | Photos

That may be true, but I really like the chances of any one of the five men listed below. Keep an eye on them this week.

5. Justin Rose
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Fifth in the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: Rose enters the Masters coming off a missed cut in his last start -- the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That should be cause for concern, right? Sure. But that's also the reason I like the reigning U.S. Open champ to make some noise this week... he's flying under the radar. He's not getting the attention you'd expect a full-on favorite to have. When he's on, few possess the all-around game Rose does. If that comes together this week, I have a feeling England will have its first Masters champ since Nick Faldo in 1996.

4. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
T12 at the Shell Houston Open
Reason to watch: It seems almost impossible, but some how, Mickelson has yet to record a top-10 finish this season. There is reason to be optimistic, however. Last week's T12 in Houston is his best this year. Oh yeah, and over the course of his illustrious career, Mickelson has racked up a whopping 14 top-10 finishes in the Masters, including three victories. Augusta National brings out the best in Phil. When he arrives for Masters week, it truly is like an excited kid on Christmas morning.

3. Jason Day
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship
Reason to watch: This week will mark Day's first start since winning the Match Play Championship in February. He hasn't played since due to a thumb injury. Day says the thumb feels great now and that's a terrific sign for the Aussie this week, as he's finished in a tie for second and alone in third in two of his last three Masters trips. Based on that, along with the fact that Day finished in the top 10 at three of the four majors in 2013, it seems as though a major championship win is in Day's very near future. Why not this week?

2. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Third at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Reason to watch: For starters, he's the defending champion. He's also got a chance to become the world's No. 1-ranked player and the first player since Tiger Woods in 2001 and 2002 to successfully defend his Masters title. Scott just seems to have his eyes set on winning majors now that he's finally gotten over the hump. Major win No. 2 could very well result in his second Masters.

1. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2013-14 season:
Playoff runner up at Honda Classic
Reason to watch: What a difference a year makes. After a tumultuous 2013 season, McIlroy is right back on top of his game and clearly a favorite to win this week at Augusta National. Golf is so much more fun to watch when the best players are on top of their respective games and that seems to be where McIlroy is at in 2014. A win at Augusta National would put the 24-year-old three-quarters of the way to a career grand slam.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.
 

April 9, 2014 - 8:45am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Bubba Watson
USA Today Images
Bubba Watson with his son and "caddie", Caleb, during the 2013 Par 3 Contest.

One of the great Masters traditions lives on today with the playing of the annual Par 3 Contest.

The idea for the Par 3 Contest came from Augusta National co-founder and former chairman, Clifford Roberts. It debuted in 1960 and was won that year by Sam Snead. The winner receives a crystal bowl.

Believe it or not, winning the Par 3 Contest is somewhat of a curse if you look at history. No player who has won the Par 3 has ever gone on to win the tournament proper that same week.

RELATED: Complete Masters coverage | Round 1 tee times | Scott goes for No. 1 | Photos

There are several great aspects about the Par 3 Contest. Here are five of them, in no particular order:

1. The kids. The "cuteness" scale is off the charts during the Par 3 Contest, as many players enlist their children -- toddlers and up -- to play caddie for the day. There's nothing cuter than seeing a 2-year-old dressed in the white Masters coveralls and green Masters hat. Another great part of the Par 3 is that the players will actually let their kids hit some of their putts (of course, those who do forfeit the chance to win, but who cares?).

2. The chance to see a hole in one. The holes range in distance from 70 to 140 yards. And, the pin positions are such that great shots will be rewarded handsomely, making the Par 3 Contest all the more fun and exciting for the patrons. In all, there have been 77 holes-in-one made through the years, including a record five in 2002. Ben Crenshaw and Nick Watney each made aces in 2013.

3. It's not just Masters competitors. That's right -- you might actually see players in the Par 3 Contest that aren't in the Masters field that week and not just former Masters Champions. The field for the Par 3 Contest includes tournament participants, noncompeting past champions and Honorary Invitees (former U.S. Amateur champions, for instance).

4. The legends. For our money, this has got to be the best part of the Par 3 Contest -- the chance to see Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player all in the same threesome. It doesn't get any better than that.

5. The course itself. With the DeSoto Springs Pond and Ike's Pond, this little 9-hole course is a work of art. It's a painting brought to life and probably the most perfectly, most beautifully conditioned short course you'll ever see.

Follow T.J. Auclair on Twitter, @tjauclair.